Teaching the Torches to Burn Bright

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Teaching the Torches to Burn Bright
Danny Stock

High School Theater Director Laura Rosberg retired in June, closing the curtain on a 44-year GDS career. She chaired the High School Performing Arts Department for three decades; taught English, directing, and theater production; served as an advisor; and directed more than 100 shows—from Shakespeare to Sondheim.

In those four decades, Laura has gifted generations of her students with the keys to careers and confidence in the creative arts and beyond. And she remembers every show, especially the work of the designers and crews on the “dark side” of production: The turntable drilled into the gym floor without permission for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The stink of The Great Dismal Swamp. Arabian Nights in the parking lot, Hamlet on Zoom. She remembers a young Kevin Sheekey ’84 crying as the sets were disassembled each night and carried down beneath the gym floor of the old MacArthur Boulevard building. The adorable dog on stage in The Miracle Worker that inspired her decades-long tradition of inviting canines to company meetings.

And so, in Laura’s words, “Bring a friend, bring a dog,” as we look back, tell her story, and honor her GDS legacy.

“Who’s there?”

SHAKESPEARE’S HAMLET, ACT I SCENE I

Third Head of School Gladys Stern hired Laura in 1972 to teach 8th grade English and direct shows from out of the High School’s first makeshift home in Keegan’s Hardware on MacArthur Boulevard for one year. After several years touring in Michigan as the first managing director of Young People’s Theater, Laura returned to GDS for what she thought would be another year-long commitment.

(from left) Gambrill (Hollister) Wagner '88, Laura Rosberg, and Alexa (Johnstone) Stone '89

(from left) Gambrill (Hollister) Wagner '88, Laura Rosberg, and Alexa (Johnstone) Stone '89

“GDS became a home and family for me more than for most people,” Laura said. Her husband, Gerry, has spent most of his career working in New York City and abroad, and their adult child is raising the grandchildren overseas. “It’s not only that my colleagues have become like my brothers and sisters, but the kids are like my own,” she said. “Each day, they came ‘home’ to tell me their stories.”

The job also provided Laura with a degree of autonomy, which enabled her to expand the Performing Arts Department by hiring professional tech directors, a dance teacher, and vocal and instrumental music teachers. “I’ve had the honor of being able to call my shots, which is so rare,” Laura remembered, while also naming how much of an uphill battle theater decisions could be, at times, even in “the early years” under Gladys. “I’ve always felt that I was well-respected for what I could offer. Boy, is that a gift.”

“Which dreams indeed are ambition”

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S HAMLET, ACT II SCENE II

1987 GDS Yearbook

1987 GDS Yearbook

When asked about Laura’s legacy, Avram Shapiro ’24 said, “One of the things I love about Laura is that she’s so ambitious. She always says, ‘This can be done!’ She always finds what’s important about the show…We need to make sure that we’re always saying something. Ultimately, that’s what pushes us to be better people and a better theater company.”

Laura’s dreams for what students could create, both at GDS and in their lives beyond, are, indeed, a kind of ambition. She has managed to manifest those visions for generations of students through the program’s structures, the trust she offers them, and sheer will.

In a tribute to Laura, Swedish actor Hannes Meidal ’97 wrote, “It is to me still a miracle how Laura always succeeded in intertwining educational challenges with such great artistic professionalism. I remember the school theater as a feast of creativity, trust, and cooperation. I have never met a teacher with such a unique capacity to bring out the best in her students…I am quite certain that without her, I would never have chosen theater and drama as my career.”

“Make just a ripple…Next time a wave.”

STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S “EVERYBODY SAYS DON’T” FROM ANYONE CAN WHISTLE

Laura Rosberg with Emily Alpern Fisch ‘07

Laura Rosberg with Emily Alpern-Fisch ‘07

Laura has always loved shaking it up a bit by bringing progressive, ahead-of-their-time, and sometimes controversial shows to GDS. But most of the time, she chose a play or musical because it was the “right show at the right time for the right people,” she said. She chose On the Town, for example, when she had dancers who could do the Dream Ballet (Fosse Thornton ’16 and Danny Thimm ’16).

At GDS, Laura developed a guild model for the theater program, through which younger students apprentice with more experienced students who have taken on leadership roles, as both a pedagogical decision and a practical one, she explained. Under Laura, everything in GDS Theater was intentionally homegrown and collaborative, from the talent on stage and backstage to the zero-based budget with which they began every season.

“We took pride in the fact that we didn’t get money for shows from the School,” she said. Student producers and box office managers raised the money for each show through advertising, ticket sales, and more. “We took pride in teaching students the biz of the Biz,” Laura added.

Students graduate from the program with the know-how to go on making a splash—or as Sondheim wrote it, “finishing a hat”—in all their chosen endeavors. They’ve garnered prestigious theater accolades, including Tony nominations and Drama Desk Awards; but well beyond that, they routinely credit Laura’s influence for the success and fulfillment they’ve found in business, politics, education, and elsewhere outside the theater world.

“What would we do without you? How would we ever get through?”

STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S “SIDE BY SIDE” FROM COMPANY

“No one in theater education does it better than Laura,” said long-time GDS theater collaborator “Bio Bill” George, who served as Laura’s guest director for 35 years. “Her dedication, passion, and commitment astound anyone who has seen her rehearse or work with student technicians and designers…First and foremost, Laura’s goal was for her students to develop their skills.”

Through fall shows, winter one-act plays, and spring musicals, she has given direction and delivered notes with positivity and humor, instinctively threading the needle between nurturing and what off-Broadway director Conor Bagley ’12 appreciatively called “laying down the law.”

“Laura has mastered the balance of tough love,” said Ava Blum ’23. “She creates space for discipline and dreaming… She radiates warmth and inclusion.”

Scott Renschler ’88, now a clinical psychologist, treasured both the tough love—“Don’t hold out for the lead,” he recalls Laura telling him once—as well as the way he felt deeply seen as a young person when he needed it most.

That’s “the duality of Laura,” Grey Papageorgiou ’23 said. Laura could show up strict in a tech rehearsal when that was needed, and then later circle back to praise students for the great work they were doing. “She knows so well the roles that she needs to play in order to support her kids because that is her ultimate goal,” Grey said.

For Laura, it has always been about the students, who she affectionately refers to as “kiddlewinks.”

Though our revels together now are ended, Laura left us with such stuff as dreams are made on. And she’ll surely visit upon the morrow.

Laura swings a truncheon from the Blackbox balcony.
Laura recieves an on-stage ovation after her final GDS show.
The cast and crew of Twelfth Night
Teaching the Torches to Burn Bright

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